Racial Diversity in Television and Film Production
This paper focuses on racial diversity as portrayed in current film and television production industry. While the assignment will overtly highlight the diversity in film production, the underlying idea is to reflect on the current state of racial inclusion in today’s society. Various forms of media have been used to mirror the society’s social, economic and political atmospheres, and a television series known as “This Is Us” is among the productions that best describe the progression in racial diversity.
“This Is Us” is an American production of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a largely conservative and among the oldest networks, which premiered in late 2016 (NBC). It has only aired its first season, with the second one set to be released in September 2017. The series has achieved a viewership rate of 10 million so far and has an approval rating of 89% according to IMDb, a review website (IMDb). The production has also been nominated for several awards and won prestigious titles such as the Best Television Series for the Golden Globe Awards, Outstanding Drama Series for the NAACP Image Award, and the TV Program of the Year for the American Film Institute Award (NBC). The series follows the lives of triplets Jack, Kate, and Randall, who are raised by their parents Jack and Rebecca, and how their lives and stories intertwine from childhood to adulthood. The three face normal struggles such as losing their father, struggling with careers and identity, and struggling to form meaningful relationships. The interesting twist about the story is that Rebecca adopted Randall, a black child on the day she gave birth to the other twins and lost the third baby due to complications. Jack eventually dies and the children have to focus on their own lives while still maintaining the family bond. Randall grows up to become a successful business executive with a family, while the other two struggle with what to do with their lives.
This show is different because of the reversed roles that the characters take, as opposed to the common racial profiling and notions that are portrayed in media. For example, Rebecca and Jack opted to adopt a black child as part of their family without caring about race. The main expectation was for her to reject Randall because of his race, and find a more “blended” fit to cover for the loss of her third child at birth.
Secondly, in Randall’s situation, we would expect him to be the one struggling to fit in socially and academically (Bigler et.al 572). The writer instead portrays him as a normal kid who excels academically more than his other siblings. Instead of giving us Randall’s view of struggling to fit in a white family, the writer chose to explore on Rebecca’s struggle of raising a black child. For example, she struggles with making his hair because it has a different texture and doesn’t want to see him for his color, thus strives to treat all her children equally. Jack also tries his best to be Randall’s father and goes a step further to make him feel like he belongs to a group by joining him in karate lessons that are majorly attended by black families.
As the story progresses, Randall’s father is re-introduced to his biological father and in an interesting twist, he turns out to be gay. This is a surprising scenario because the black community is known for being homophobic. Homosexuality is frowned upon especially by the men, and it is surprising to see Randall’s father at his age being open about his sexuality, and even more surprising that he has a relationship with a white man. Other family members are not bothered by his sexuality, and his son Randall encourages him to go out on the occasional date without passing judgment.
This Is Us is a progressive show because it breaks away from the norms of racial stigmatization and stereotyping. It has touched on sensitive issues such as homosexuality, and family interaction. The black person who is most of the time depicted as struggling socially and economically is the one who is successful among his white siblings (Marc, Los Angeles Times). It is important because it shows us that humanity knows no race or color. For example, black people might be homophobic but their color does not exclude them from having a different sexual preference (Frey 45). While the black child has been struggling to blend with a white family, the series shows us the struggle from the opposite side through Rebecca’s struggle in trying to raise a black child to the best of her ability.
The show differs from other popular shows that include racial diversity. Most productions show the co-existence of different races, but still maintain the black man’s identity as an aggressive, outspoken, and unapologetic character. Contrary to this, Randall is a calm and polite person who shies away from any form of confrontation. Critics of this show viewed it as being too unrealistic because it failed to show the real struggles that a racially diverse family faces. Randall’s struggle with identity issues was not clearly highlighted thus watering down the real experience of growing up without a father, and in a different culture.
The show attempted to show the transition between old school and the new school thought on racism by giving Randall’s father a typical black man’s character of being a drug addict, irresponsible parent, and playing the role of the “angry black man” who is not afraid to confront anyone who comes off as racists. His son takes up the image of the new black man who is slow to anger, avoids confrontation, and blends well with other people in society. The black person is almost always represented by anger, failure to achieve significant success, prone to crime, and indulging in other vices such as alcoholism and drug abuse. He is also a morally straight and hardworking man whose main wish is to take care of his family. However, the main issue of contention is whether Randall would have grown up to be the same individual had he been raised in a black household. This is left for the viewers to speculate.
Portraying Randall a not being the “average struggling and angry black man” is significant in attempting to change the perspective on the black people. It shows that they are capable of being successful financially and socially, and living what would be considered a desirable lifestyle. The show also portrays the strong family values attached to the black culture. Even though Randall’s biological father was a former drug degenerate who abandoned him at birth, he still accepted his father, took care of him, and built a relationship with him up to the time of his death. The black people have a strong sense of family values (Jacob et. al. 101). This can also be displayed when a stranger at the pool offers to help Rebecca by advising her on the issues she did not understand about raising Randall.
Overall, even though the story line has been heavily criticized, the production has succeeded in diluting or painting a different picture about both the white and black communities. It is also an indication of how today’s society approaches the issue of racial discrimination. The United States has long been plagued with the controversy of racial discrimination and mistreatment of the black community, especially by law enforcers. More productions should embrace the racial diversity that the media won’t portray, to show a different side of each culture and to avoid the brewing of unnecessary hatred.
Bigler, Rebecca S., Cara J. Averhart, and Lynn S. Liben. “Race and the workforce: Occupational
status, aspirations, and stereotyping among African American children.” Developmental Psychology 39.3 (2003): 572.
Frey, William H. Diversity explosion: How new racial demographics are remaking America. Brookings Institution Press, 2014. Available at: https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=t_aZAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
Jacobs Henderson, Jennifer, and Gerald J. Baldasty. “Race, advertising, and prime-time
television.” Howard Journal of Communication 14.2 (2003): 97-112.
Marc, Bernardin, Marc. At last, ‘This Is Us’ Captures the Simmering Rage of a Successful Black
Man in White America. Los Angeles Times, Jan 7, 2017, Accessed 30 March 2017. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-hollywood-values-updates-at-last-this-is-us-shows-what-it-s-1483652692-htmlstory.html.
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